A one-on-one meeting between Australian star batters Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne is set to grace the County Championship’s Second Division as host Sussex Glamorgan.
This is Smith’s third and final game with Sussex, and likely the last Glamorgan will see Labuschagne this summer.
The star duo will line up against India in the World Test Championship final before the Ashes.
Labuschagne says Smith had a “massive” influence on his career.
Both counties are unbeaten this season, with one win and four draws apiece, but it’s the sprinkling of international stardust that should bring huge crowds and media presence to Hove.
The match isn’t just about two men, with India’s Cheteshwar Pujarachurning in the races for Sussex, while England’s fast bowler Ollie Robinson could also feature.
Meanwhile, Glamorgan’s other Australian international, pace setter Michael Neser, is hoping to make his way into the tourist squad after being initially overlooked, and looks set to report for a national training camp.
Smith vs. Labuschagne will provide the higher rating, however.
Answer to the expectations
Smith was originally top dog, with Labuschagne the young contender when he came to Glamorgan in 2019.
But a concussion injury to Smith allowed Labuschagne to take his stellar county form on the biggest stage and become the highest-ranked Test hitter in the world, playing alongside Smith, who now sits in third place.
So what did Labuschagne learn from Smith along the way?
“He was a huge influence on me, just raising my own expectations of what’s possible, I think he raised everyone’s expectations,” Labuschagne told BBC Radio Wales.
“It’s just the person he is, how he approaches his game, I’ve learned so much from him and the way he thinks about the game.
“Our friendship has grown over a period of four years and I’ve learned more and more each year.
“We’ve played against each other at Big Bash and the state stuff, but I haven’t played him for quite a while now. It’ll be interesting to see him and his ways when I’m not at no- the attacker’s end.
“He has a few low ratings, so I’m sure he’s due [a big one]but hopefully we can put the ball in the right area.”
Although this year’s stay at Glamorgan will be limited by the Test series staged earlier than usual this summer, Labuschagne views his own visit to these shores as different from those of some of his compatriots.
“I’ve been playing here since 2019 and coming back every year, it’s possible. Steve and a few other guys are coming here – it’s great preparation for an Ashes summer for them,” he said.
“But for me personally, I love playing here and I love Glamorgan, the club have been so good to me and it’s so nice to play here.”
So how does Smith see the county reuniting with his fellow Aussie?
“I’m going to face my mate Marnus after a few races (170 not against Yorkshire) so it’s going to be a good challenge,” Smith told BBC Sussex Sport.
“He’s a student of the game, he works very hard and he’s always looking to improve despite being a great player, but hopefully he doesn’t score too much this week.
“Neser has good ball control for the Dukes, he played really well last week with a hat-trick and 7-32 (also at Headingley) and he has terrific skills.
“I don’t think he’s in the [initial Australia] team at the moment, but playing here always helps.”
Neser, who has two Test selections, bolstered his case for international selection with a career-high seven wickets at Yorkshire, plus a game-defining early flurry against Worcestershire, added to scores of 90 and 86 in the lower order.
He’s also relishing the prospect of bowling against Smith.
“There are a lot of stars in this formation, as a team we are playing very well and we will be up for the challenge, but it will be great to see these clashes,” Neser told BBC Sport Wales.
“Steve is never far from racing so even though he missed those few games he is a class player and we will have to be on our game for him.”
“Brilliant” for County Cricket
Glamorgan manager Matthew Maynard is keen to point out that apart from Smith and Labuschagne there are 20 other players involved in the game and Indian Pujara is also likely to be a key figure.
But he welcomes the extra attention to what might otherwise be a relatively unremarkable county device.
“It’s great for the county game, we’re expecting a really good crowd there,” Maynard said.
“It’s also great for county play when you have the best Test batsman in the world and someone (Smith) who was the best and is still an amazing player.
“They are alongside Pujara and Michael Neser and their promising young talents against our slightly older players. [squad], but with one of the two who hasn’t played much first-class cricket. It’s a really exciting prospect.”
Marnus Labuschagne was speaking to BBC Radio Wales’ new summer sports and music program with Rob Phillips and Molly Stephens, which will air from 2pm-5pm BST on Saturdays for the next few months.